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Oct
24

getting smaller

When I was a kid one of my favorite comic books was Micronauts. The premise was that what we saw as atoms were actually just tiny galaxies with their own planets and life forms. It was the ol’ “inside your fingertip could be a billion galaxies” argument. At the time I loved the idea and it didn’t hurt that the stories were well written and occasionally, through some crazy scientific accident or villainous plot, they would pop up in our world and wreck havoc.

It got me interested in quantum physics and I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on different theories about how small matter can get. I could bore you with my own ideas about subatomic particles like graviphotons and leptoquarks but the view held by most of the big brains is that there is a limit to how minute things can get.

Try telling that to the Greek philosopher who determined that you can never actually arrive anywhere because however fast you travel you are endlessly getting “half way there”… so you can never actually arrive. His name escapes me but his idea was fun to throw around. It was with this total disregard for reality that I somehow became comfortable with the idea that you could always shrink down further. Once you saw an atom you could just shrink away until it looked like a planet to you. Now it’s true that some particles are a trillion trillion times smaller than an atom but that’s where things seem to peter out a bit… mathematically speaking. In my head I can’t see how but I have to assume that these eggheads are just a hair brighter than me so I’m going to believe them.

That’s the problem with science. It can be a bummer. I think most people have an odd relationship with science for that very reason. It’s like the depressed person … nobody wants to actually get involved in their lives but everyone wants to read the suicide note.

So we leave it to the big brains to squabble about waves and strings and mass while we sit on the sidelines and hopes that in the end they don’t trash every flight of fancy we’ve ever had. You wonder how many of them want to come up and ask us normal folk about day to day issues like whether a heart can be broken again and again or if there is a limit to that as well. Is the heart like your Mom’s porcelain figure that you broke while playing ball in the house but didn’t want her to know so you glued it together in the hopes that she wouldn’t notice but in the end it looked like shit? Once it’s broken it is forever diminished and any further damage is just making something already cheapened worse?

I remember one issue of the Micronauts where this green bug guy had his girlfriend die in some conflict and he sat holding her in his subatomic arms and you could feel his heart break into a trillion trillion pieces and you had to wonder if he’d ever be able to put his Humpty Dumpty romanticism together again. Maybe that Greek philosopher had his normal 100% heart broken once, then his 50% heart broken again, and then his 25% heart … until it dawned on him he could always fall in love again because there will always be something left of it … even if it has a lot of cracks and you can see the glue oozing out all over the place.

So you can’t just cut something in half endlessly. Why does that notion fill me with such angst? I don’t walk up to physics professors and start telling them about broken hearts, why do they get to unravel all the mysteries that I’d like to stay raveled? I like the idea of alternate universes and additional dimensions but the little things that seem like common sense and give us a sense of (false?) understanding about our world as well as a deep connection to our childhood idealism should remain off limits.

Is that too much to ask?

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